Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin and a persistent environmental contaminant that accumulates in the tissues of fish in regions where artisanal scale gold mining exists. Consuming contaminated fish is one of the primary mercury exposure pathways for humans living in these regions. A previous study conducted in 2009 by the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology found that many of the consumed fish species sold in the markets of Madre de Dios, an Amazonian region in southern Peru, had levels of mercury well above international reference limits. This indicated a serious public health and environmental problem existed in the Western Amazon.
To better understand how mercury from artisanal gold mining is affecting ecosystems and human populations, in 2012 the Carnegie Institution for Science established the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Ecosystem Project (CAMEP), a scientific research effort that brings together 8 Peruvian universities and NGOs with Carnegie scientists to focus on the pressing problem of mercury in Madre de Dios.
This first CAMEP research brief presents the results of two studies that examined the effects of mercury on the urban community of Puerto Maldonado, the capital city of the department of Madre De Dios.